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Friday, December 2, 2022

Lesotho’s voters’ roll mired in controversy

Johannesburg – As the Kingdom of Lesotho prepares to go to the polls, the country’s election body has come under severe criticism over its voters’ roll.

Political parties and ordinary citizens are complaining about what they have termed duplicates in the roll, which they believe can have a significant bearing on the outcomes of the elections.

This week, at least three individuals told Independent Media that the country’s Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) could jeopardise the entire process and contaminate it.

According to the Revolution for Prosperity (RFP) party, led by prime minister hopeful Sam Matekane, the voters’ roll is riddled with errors that raise questions about the quality of work being put out by the organisation.

“The voters’ roll that the IEC made public on its website is riddled with clerical errors, inconsistencies, duplicates and other egregious errors. It is unusable for a credible, free and fair election, and must be thoroughly revised before any voting takes place,” a senior party official stressed.

Through its lawyers, the RFP had earlier argued that a legitimate, reliable and verifiable national voters’ roll is the basis and essence of any credible election.

Clement Selepe, a local, said the IEC has not done a good job.

“The IEC has been very sloppy in its data management. For example, look at the following file for Pitseng L.E.C. Primary School in Mphosong. The entire file from Pitseng is repeated inside the one of Nkola,“ Selepe said.

The IEC did not do itself any favours when it admitted in a letter dated August 29 that it was financially hamstrung and could not provide an electronic version of the voters’ roll because an undisclosed service provider that the commission relied on for the voters’ roll had “slapped the IEC with an invoice over two million loti (R2m) for the reconfiguration of their systems that would translate into the production of the electronic voters’ roll”.

The IEC’s letter implied the electronic version of the voters’ roll was essentially being held hostage by the undisclosed service provider.

The letter, signed by the IEC’s director of elections, advocate Mpaiphele Maqutu, raised more questions as it came after a hard copy of the voters’ roll had been released.

The IEC was questioned on how a hard copy of the voters’ roll had been generated without an electronic version. According to the RFP, the hard copy is a product of the electronic version.

“How can there be a printed version in the absence of the electronic version? Where would a print version materialise from?” said the letter advocate Letuka Molati wrote on the party’s behalf.

The claim by the IEC that the digital version of the voters’ roll was not ready when it had already released the hard copy version further eroded confidence in the electoral body.

Senior lecturer in the department of political sciences at the University of Pretoria, Dr Sithembile Mbete said a voters’ roll is the cornerstone of the elections.

“It contains the details of voters. This is how you know who has a right to participate on the day. It also serves as a roll-call to ensure a person can only vote once,” she said.

IEC spokesperson Tuoe Hantši said this week that he was not aware of any challenges with the voters’ roll. He said they have the voters’ roll and it was not with the service provider.

“The printed voters’ roll shows that we have a set copy. We have access to it and it is managed by us. We also have our voter roll online,” he said.

Quizzed on the anomalies in the voters’ roll, he said: “The voters’ roll is not duplicated but has some duplicates, meaning there are voters appearing more than once. We print the voters’ roll to the display centres so that electorates can make queries to the voters’ roll as we have people sharing the names in the country. That works as a form of verification mechanism. The final roll will be much cleaned, with the help of electorates and stakeholders.”

With days only days to go until the elections, it is not clear when the final voters’ roll will be made ready. Hantši, however, maintained that everything was on track.

“Queries from the electorates and stakeholders have helped clean up the voters’ roll and the final roll will be clean. Much is done and the digital roll is not yet updated,” he said.

Hantši said that the mechanisms in place would curb any abuse of the system on the voting day, “such as competent witnesses in each voting station”.

“There are party agents representing political parties in all the stations. The voter’s finger is dipped in indelible ink to make sure that she or he can be identified when coming for the second time. Another main thing is that the voter is known around the voting station as the law provides that a voter should register at the place of origin or place of work, or where she or he stays,” Hantši said.

The country will go to the polls on October 7.

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